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There's no question that watching Trajan Langdon, Elton Brand, Shane Battier,
Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mike Dunleavy steamroll the opposition the
last few years has been fun. But it's fun to watch a young team gain an
identity, too, and this team, to us, seems like an easy bunch to pull for, and
that came through in the Michigan game.
Though the game started slow, with Michigan hanging around longer than one
would like, Duke still managed to show enough facets to this team to be really
interesting, and we'll talk about those in a minute. It's increasingly
clear, though, that this team is Chris Duhon's, and he's really starting to
assert himself as a point guard. He's a very different player than Jason
Williams, and as far as being a pure point guard goes, he's better. Jason
could pop off 15 or 20 points in a row, without breaking a sweat.
Duhon's not like that. He's much more of a classic point guard, and
he's doing a great job of getting his teammates involved - and of leading as
well. It's pretty cool to see him go from a guy who was willing to be
deferential to a guy who wants to run things.
So far, Duhon and Dahntay Jones are the guys who have started consistently,
and that didn't change against Michigan. Duke started Casey Sanders,
Daniel Ewing, and J.J. Redick along with Jones and Duhon this time out, though
Sanders only played 11 minutes.
Nonetheless, it's increasingly clear that Sanders is a different player, a
much better player. Instead of being a great athlete who is tall and plays
basketball, he has become a basketball player. He is making a lot of smart
plays, and most interestingly, turning into an excellent on-ball defender.
Michigan trailed Redick like the FBI is on Tony Soprano, and so his scoring
was greatly restricted.
Not so for Ewing. He didn't shoot that well (6-15), but he did have a
solid all-round game, with 17 points, 4 steals, and 8 boards - including 4
When you get down to it, Ewing and Redick sort of defined a problem for Duke
in this game, which is to say poor shooting. So good thing the defense took a
good step forward.
In the early parts of this season, Duke's defense has been erratic. Coach K
said the other day that Redick lit it up in practice, but "that could just
be our defense." Ouch.
Message received. Duke played a tremendous defensive game, forcing 25
turnovers, which converted to 26 points. You don't want to oversimplify
things, but in a 22 point win, that kind of is a big edge.
One of the guys who has had his defense rather carefully critiqued is Shavlik
Randolph. In the last two games, he slid down the bench, and Nick Horvath
suggested that he had not yet had to deal with a coach aggressively pursuing his
weaknesses. Overall, though, he looked solid on defense against Michigan,
and at times downright sensational on offense. Did you catch that fnger
roll? Cooooolness. And that little turnaround j on the left side of the
lane was pretty sweet in its own right.
Pretty clearly, the kid has huge offensive talents. He said once that
he usually preferred to practice alone, that he preferred to concentrate on his
skills individually rather than playing pickup. The problem with that
approach now seems obvious: you can only work on one half of the game that
way. Off to pickup!
Shelden Williams, Duke's other burgeoning big man (Michael Thompson is a step
or so behind these two still, but not that much), is starting to show signs of
his nickname, "the Landlord," because every so often, he really evicts
a jumper or two.
We can go on talking about the elements - Dockery's defense off the bench,
Horvath's maturity, Thompson's potential - but that sort of loses the point. And
just what is the point?
Well, to us, it's this: for a team with six freshmen, they're ahead of
target. Will that continue? And how good can they get?
Depends. A lot rests on Randolph and Williams, and how they step up,
and in some ways, more on Williams than Randolph, because Williams is really the
only power guy who is ready to go in the middle. Thompson could be better
down the road (might not be, too), but he's not as advanced at this point.
Clearly, though, Duhon is in charge of the team, and it's starting to take on
his personality, and if the defense can continue at such a high level, they'll
be very difficult to defeat.